3 Ways to Improve Your To-Do List

There are too many items on my to-do list today. I am guessing there may be too many on yours. Not only are there too many items to complete, but also when I review this list, it seems that the urgent stuff might crowd out the important stuff. Like Annie Dillard says, “How we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives.”
Here is my to-do list today:
  • Write a message for Sunday
  • Write an article for the newsletter
  • Put together a church-wide survey
  • Figure out the problem with the info@plattparkchurch.org email address
  • Invite folks to participate in the pre-marital class
  • Line up a videographer
  • Meal plan and grocery shop for the week
  • Re-schedule the school tour
  • Exercise
  • Drink 60 oz of water
Pretty much every day I create a to-do list like this. Once I create my list, I scan it and prioritize my “top 3” tasks for that day. I like my system; it’s serving me well. But even if I do all these things and do them well, I could miss out on walking in faith, hope and love. God doesn’t call us to be efficiency machines; he invites us to be his children. Remember the story of Mary and Martha? Martha is busy with so many things, but Jesus says, “Mary has chosen the better and it shall not be taken from her.” Mary chose to worship at Jesus feet.
The most important thing is to keep the main thing the main thing! Scripture teaches that the main thing is to love God, and love people.
So here are 3 things I’m going to write into my to-do list today:
  • Spend time with Jesus walking the alleys of Platt Park
  • Tickle the kids and kiss Tim
  • Say hello to the strangers I see throughout the day
I encourage you to include these 3 items on your to-do list today (Write them down to hold yourself accountable):

1.  One way you can go outside and pray.

2.  One way you can notice the people in your life and show them love.

3.  One way you can spread kindness to a stranger.

You can write down anything you’d like, and it can be new and creative each day. What surprising, quirky, new or faith-filled item could you check off your list today?

In the Weeds or Up in the Treetop

“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” -Proverbs 29:18
I studied leadership at Denver Seminary, and one thing most leadership gurus agree on is the importance of vision. This word “vision” can be intimidating because sometimes it feels like vision is about always being energetic and/or crystal clear on what you want and where you’re going. But I think vision is really about caring. It is about caring deeply. If you have a vision for your family, you care deeply for them and want your kids to want to come home when they’re 30. If you have a vision for your marriage, then you care deeply and want to grow old together even as you both change over the years. If you have a vision for your company, then you care deeply and want to retain, develop and engage your customers and staff.  Vision is really about caring deeply.
The scriptures say that where there is no vision the people perish. Perish is a strong word. Perish means die, expire, rot, decay, wither, evaporate, vanish, disappear. Where there is no vision, the people perish. I’ve been fascinated by survival stories. Why do some people survive and others perish in the same set of extreme circumstances? Researchers have found that those who die simply lose hope, they give up caring, and they perish.
Every day you and I wake up and have the choice to be up in the treetop or down in the weeds. The reality is that much of life is lived in the weeds – filling up the car with gas, driving to work, figuring out what to eat, changing dirty diapers, paying bills, running the dishwasher again. But if we are only ever in the weeds and never up in the treetop, we go through a process of perishing. We slowly begin to wither on the inside. We might begin to lose sight of how God uniquely formed us for abundant life, joy, and participation in the Kingdom of God on earth.
I wonder what you can do today to get up in the treetop of your life? Here’s one idea, but if this doesn’t work for you, find something today that does: In your car before you enter the office or your home, intentionally set aside 5 minutes to take some deep breaths, close your eyes, be silent, and listen to the voice of God who has nothing but love and care for you. I believe true vision (deep caring) is born of God and is a gift He gives us as we create space in our lives to listen to Him.
What can you do today to step out of the weeds and foster a little “up in the treetop” time in your life?

The Sacred Practice of Staying Put

Sometimes the most sacred thing you can do is stay put.
I grew up in a church that really emphasized the importance of going. They spoke often about the gospel as “Go ye into all the world and make disciples…” Every year an elaborate missions festival highlighted all of the people who had forsaken everything to follow Jesus by going to another part of the world to minister. I am grateful for the incredible people I know who have listened to this call to go. They are doing important kingdom work, Jesus’ own great commission work.  However, sometimes the emphasis on this particular spiritual path of “leaving everything” to follow Him has diminished the worth of staying.
Tim and I moved 8 times in the first 12 years of our marriage, but we have now lived in the same house for 3 years – a new record for us! I am starting to see the value of staying in one spot. One beautiful byproduct of staying is the opportunity to foster community. Kurt Vonnegut once said, “What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” Like tending a garden, fostering stable communities takes time, energy, love, and creativity. The community to which God calls me may be in another part of the world, or it may be right within my family, neighborhood, or office. For this season of our lives, God has called Tim and me to grow roots right here, in this home, with our two children and with Platt Park Church. We are practicing taking relational risks, extending and receiving hospitality, healthily engaging conflict, and enjoying humor and intimacy.
Another rich blessing of staying has been, ironically, the opportunity to explore how Christ’s invitation to “go” is relevant for every follower of Christ. Whether we travel far or stay close to what is familiar, often the hardest things to leave behind are the instincts that live and wage war inside of us. Relocation will never resolve our resentment, anger, jealousy, lust, fear of failure, competition, and the need to prove our worthiness.  We hold these internal attachments in the secret places of our hearts. They reside in our wishes, hopes, dreams and fears more than in our physical address. Often these things go unnoticed and untended, but we need to leave them in order to fully follow Christ.
When Jesus tells us to “go,” he may have more than one possibility in mind! This Christmas, as we celebrate Jesus’ own leavetaking from his heavenly home to stay with us a while, let’s listen deeply for his particular invitation to us.

One Thing Most of Us Agree On

There is a lot of debate going on in our world today. Debate over who will make the next best president, debate over immigration, debate over gun control. But with all the debate, it seems that most of us agree on one thing at this time of year – and that is our desire for peace on earth.
What is the “peace on earth” that Christ came to bring?  Peace on earth is not the absence of conflict, and it’s not the perfect poise of a stress-free life. Rather, it is this: peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled. From this peace we become free to have the humility to say sorry, the confidence to accept when we blow it, the hope that is higher than our worst fears, and the trust that transcends the ups and downs of a world at war. This peace brings stability that is present in the midst of a storm, during the ups and downs of our relationships, and this peace can carry us thru the joys and grief’s of this life.
The heart of Christ’s birth and the peace on earth that Christmas brings is found in those old familiar words we sing, “peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.”
See, we usually tend to think that world peace is the result of certain problems being solved, and so we say:
  1. the problem is just ignorance, we need better information
  2. the problem is just indifference, we need more compassion
  3. the problem is just apathy, we need more motivation
But the scriptures teach that our primary problem is estrangement from God. Like a couple that was once in love and is now estranged, the scriptures say I am estranged from God and so I need reconciliation. Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled. The story of God is that He created the world as a perfect Garden, and because we turned our own way it became a wild jungle. Our planet and all people on it were created for good, but we and our world have been deeply damaged by evil. In Christ we are restored for better – but not just so that we can be better – but also so that we can be sent together to heal a broken and hurting world.
God offers us the gift of peace – not just so we can be at peace – but so that we can go be peacemakers in the world. How will you be a peacemaker this year?

Adopting Lyla: Part 4

Adoption Day is the day that adoptive parents meet their child for the first time.

I have been told to expect all sorts of emotions on the day that our family and Lyla meet face-to-face. For parents, this day is the realization of a whole lot of wishes, hopes, dreams, and prayers, not to mention an insane amount of paperwork! For the child being adopted, it may also be a day of culminated joy, but there is often an element of loss, too, as the child is separated from whatever semblance of home has been fostered in the orphanage or foster home. For siblings already in the home, “Gotcha Day” can be complex, with some excitement and some perception of threat. The whole family is oriented around the task of bonding, which is a vulnerable undertaking in any circumstance, but perhaps especially in this context where each person longs so deeply to love and be loved. “Gotcha Day” is the beginning of something new and inconceivable, no matter how often we have dreamed of it.

I am waiting and wondering and dreaming of what our adoption day will be like. I wonder what it will feel like for Tim, Russell, and me, and I wonder what it will feel like for Lyla. We would be so grateful for your prayers as we approach this important day. Here are some of our hearts’ longings:

  • Tim and I will travel to China sometime end of May/early June. Prayer for us and Russell as he stays home with Grandma, Grandpa & Gabby as we travel to China to get Lyla. I’m already sad about leaving Russell for those 10 days and I’m nostalgic about our time with “just Russell” winding down.
  • We hope to make our world very small for a while when Lyla first arrives, in order to focus on bonding & attaching with our new little girl.
  • Praying for Russell’s adjustment…Mommy’s adjustment….Tim’s adjustment…Gabby’s adjustment….and a whole lot of patience, acceptance and openness to the big change coming our way.
  • Solid sleeping routines for everyone upon Lyla’s arrival!
  • Praying for Lyla’s little heart as she goes through one more significant change in her life. Praying that as she forms her self-identity that she can be rooted deeply in the Lord and his deep abiding love for her.

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.”– Romans 8:14-17

The Grass Is Always Greener

You’ve heard it said, “The grass is always greener on the other side,” but the truth of the matter is, the grass is always greener where you water it.

We live in a world that constantly encourages us to compare and contrast our lives. Advertisements bombard us daily with images of what we don’t have yet but others do… and what we too could have some day. So, we compete with our neighbors, envy our friends, and spend our energy trying to attain what others have. Our culture tells us that we never have enough, and on some level, we believe we are always one acquisition away from happiness. We live like the mouse on a treadwheel, always spinning with new desires and dissatisfied energy, wanting what someone else already has.

But contentment is about cherishing what I already have, watering the grass of my own lawn.

When I allow my thoughts to be consumed with running lists of what someone else has that I don’t have, I am watering grass on my neighbor’s lawn. If I do this for too long, my own lawn will die. But when I focus on the grass in my own lawn, and water it, weed it, mow it and fertilize it, then my own grass will become green.

What part of your life is wilting from lack of attention? What action could you take today to care for your own “lawn” instead of watering someone else’s?

The Lowest RSVP Rate in the Nation

Colorado has the lowest RSVP rate in the nation. We are a state of people who like to keep our options open. We don’t want to be too nailed down. We like our freedom.

Open options, extreme flexibility, and self-determination are not bad values. They allow us to express our God-given preferences and explore the wide world which has been entrusted to us, at least partially for our enjoyment. They allow space for the vitality and spontaneity often conducive to creativity.

But living according to a default setting of “low RSVP rate” has some limitations, too. We cannot build a foundation of densely networked communities if we are primarily concerned with keeping our options open, remaining flexible, and determining our own destinies. Densely networked communities require personal investment. Investment consists of some level of risk in the areas of depth and intimacy, as well as some willingness to defer to others’ preferences and even to mutually agreed upon boundaries.

Think of such densely networked communities as Olympic teams, whether relay or basketball or soccer. For the sake of a shared victory, the players invest themselves in a long preparatory process, in which they spend concentrated time together, learning each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They accept correction and counsel from each other and from their coach. They practice together in order to figure out the best ways to honor the rules of the game while also highlighting each member’s unique contribution. Players commit to each other, to their coach, to the game, and to their country because they have a common goal.

Whether in an Olympic team setting or a church family, depth and intimacy require a commitment to “showing up” (and engaging actively) that directly opposes the culture values of keeping our options forever open. How do you see yourself buying into Colorado’s “low RSVP rate”? How has this benefited and/or limited you and those around you? Please share your thoughts!


“In the beginning God created…” You and I are made in the image of God and one of the implications is that we are creative beings. At Sipping n’ Painting (the little art studio business that we own) it is very common to witness people’s apprehension, hear the objection “I’m not creative” and watch the hesitation around the idea of being artistic. Somewhere along the way someone drew a line in the sand and put a small percentage of the kids on the creative side of the line and the rest of us on the other side of that imaginary line. As a result, most of us believe and even say, “I’m not an artist, I’m just not the creative type.” But I don’t believe it, I think every human being is made in the image of God and there is no one more creative and artistic than the designer of this planet earth.  Just consider…aspen leaves turning and twirling in the wind, oh my! Underwater life, are you kidding me? A duckbill platypus, a baby kangaroo in their mamas’ pouch…and all the wild characters in my family! What creativity, what imagination, what incredible art!

I think the thing that stands in the way of our creating is a little word called risk. We can dream, but in order for our dreams to move from dream mode alone to actual work of creation we must take a risk. It is the risk that holds us back. It is the unknown, the fear, and the potential for failure that keeps us dreaming but never creating. Sometimes I think the place where walking with Jesus gets exciting is at the moment when we leave the familiar, and dreams in hand, we step out in faith to co-create with God. It is risky, which is probably why we do it so rarely. Each week in our staff meeting we review the week. We ask: what went right? wrong? What was missing? confusing? And we always end by asking ourselves: what did we do this week that was risky?

My hope and prayer is that our church can be a place where we encourage Spirit-led risk taking. I hope we can put courage in one another when fear paralyzes us from pursing the grander vision God has planted in our hearts. I pray we become for each other the incarnational presence of Jesus that is needed to follow God into the creative and unfamiliar places He is leading.

I Lack Nothing

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
The Lord is my shepherd, I have all that I need.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

From the perspective of our personal stories, sometimes this famous psalm of David just does not resonate. Lack nothing? Shall not want? Have all that I need? I lack the family of my dreams, I need more money to pay the rent, and I wantwantwant so many other things….

When trying to understand the seeming discrepancy between the words of the psalm and our experiences of need, we might consider that when we pray this psalm, we are participating in a much larger story than our personal stories alone can tell. We are being brought into the story of the people of God. The psalm is framed in metaphorical language, which means that it isn’t designed to be read literally. Rather, the psalmist David is conveying an impression–through a series of striking images–of a general truth: God’s relationship to his people is like that of a shepherd with his or her flock of sheep. This is the first time David uses shepherd imagery to describe God in the psalms. Prior to the 23rd psalm, we read about Yahweh as a more distant “king” or “deliverer” or the impersonal “rock” or “shield.” But here David uses the personal and intimate metaphor of a shepherd who is always with his sheep and who prioritizes their wellbeing. Like a good shepherd, the Lord cares for his people.

It’s the identity of the shepherd – not the perspective of the sheep – that takes center stage in the psalm. A shepherd’s heart and mind are focused on making sure that the sheep are fed and safe, provided for and protected. This is true in the collective sense of God’s people across time and geography, and it is true in our personal lives. “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake…” When we find ourselves in need, we can trust that our shepherd sees and knows our circumstances. We can “bleat” our prayers in confidence that our shepherd will lead us well, even through the valley of the shadow of death. We can come to love and trust our Shepherd so completely that our needs diminish in the light of his presence with us.

I am delighted that we are joining with The Church in Denver (a group of 10+ churches) to study this psalm during the month of July.  My hope and prayer is that we will not just learn about this psalm but that we will experience the loving Shepherd in new and intimate ways. Perhaps we could spend the entire series…or better yet our entire lives, just praying that those first two verses of this psalm might be true in our daily lives.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

About Being Unplugged

One of the best parts about marrying into the Grade family is the annual “Up North” tradition. It’s that week every summer of Tim’s entire life (and my life since being a Grade) when we hit the lake in northern Wisconsin. We exchange our 4G network for a spotty connection, and we trade in our busy schedules for lazy days with little planned on the lake. We leave all work clothes at home and we rely mainly on swimsuits, flip-flops and the same clothes over and over all week.  Our eyes stare at the lake for hours, rather than our screens and we get loads of time with some of the people we love most.  We find ourselves antsy for activity and hot with cabin fever by day 3 in our attempt to unplug from all the movement that is our daily lives.

This past week we’ve been up north and I’m reminded once again, as I am every year, that there is just something good about non-productivity and less self-striving. There is something strong birthed in quiet and staring into the beauty of nature – if you can push past the clatter within.

Most days this week during Russell’s nap I just sat on the boat or on the dock staring up at those tall, tall trees.  I watched and I reveled and I soaked in all that beauty of the rustling wind in the pines, the deer wandering by, and the water lapping up against the shore.  I found my heart singing for nothing in particular but just because I am here and God is here and we are here together.

I wish for you a moment, or many moments, like this, this summer. May we all better learn to trust that when God tells us to rest, he really does mean it and that there are non-flashy, undetectable, life-giving gifts lying wait for us there.